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How to Diagnose a Rotator Cuff Injury

By Contributor

How to Diagnose a Rotator Cuff Injury. A rotator cuff injury affects the muscles that connect at the shoulder. Caused by an immediate injury or the result of progressive symptoms, treatment depends on the severity of the injury. Diagnose a rotator cuff injury early to receive the proper treatment.

Know the common symptoms of a rotator cuff injury. Weakness in your shoulder, pain with motion and excessive tenderness may indicate a rotator cuff injury. Visit your doctor for a thorough examination.

Expect a thorough physical examination of your shoulder and surrounding areas. Both shoulders are observed for obvious and subtle differences. The doctor gently feels the injured shoulder to assess tenderness and pain thresholds. Your range of motion is tested (if broken bones are ruled out) to check the severity of your injury. The amount of sensation you feel in your arm and the blood flow to your shoulder are also monitored.

Understand the physical tests that may be performed to diagnose a rotator cuff injury. During an impingement injection test, your injured arm is raised forward to check for pain. An injection of lidocaine is administered and your arm is raised again. If you still have severe pain, a rotator cuff injury is suspected; if the pain is gone, tendonitis is the probable cause of pain. The drop arm test takes the injured arm to a 90-degree angle. Downward pressure is then applied at the forearm or wrist. If the arm immediately drops down, a rotator cuff injury is the likely cause.

Know that diagnostic tests may also be conducted to diagnose a rotator cuff injury. An MRI or ultrasound may be ordered to get a detailed look at the muscles in the shoulder.


Seek medical attention immediately if you suspect a rotator cuff injury. Continued use of the damaged muscles could cause permanent injury.

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